The Rust Project and community value providing a stable platform, but also want to be able to make progress and changes.

There are a number of facilities and practices which try to achieve both, with a surprising degree of success.

Rust language, release channels

The Rust language itself (the compiler, the standard library, and some of the core tools) has a bespoke stability and release scheme:

There are three "channels", each representing a moving target. Stable is released periodically (about every 6 weeks). Beta is a pre-view of the next Stable and exists mostly to be tested.

The big difference is between Nightly and Beta/Stable (henceforth and elsewhere, Stable).

rustup can manage multiple versions of Rust. The cargo, rustc, etc. in ~/.cargo/bin (on your PATH) are actually links to rustup so that you can invoke a different version with e.g. cargo +nightly build.


Nightly provides numerous features which are explicitly denoted unstable. These are sometimes introduced experimentally. They are in any case subject to change without notice.

Each nightly language feature must be explicitly enabled by the use of #![feature(something)] at the start of the crate toplevel. Unstable command line options generally require adding -Z unstable-options.

There are even features which are known to be incomplete, broken, or maybe even unsound, for which an additional #![allow(incomplete_features)] is required.


Conversely Stable Rust aims to keep existing code working, almost entirely successfully.

Considerable care is taken when stabilising a feature, that the API and implementation is good, and that it doesn't paint Rust into unfortunate corners.

"Breaking changes" (defined as any change to the contract of the language or library or tool which might invalidate a previously-correct use) are very much the exception. Rarely, they are still considered, but they are handled very cautiously, including theoretical and practical assessment of the likely fallout.

(Actually, Stable Rust is actually simply a stabilised release branch of Nightly, so it does contain the code for all the unstable features. But measures are taken to prevent the use of unstable features in the stable compiler. This allows the Rust Project to main one main line of development containing both the unstable work, and improvements to the stable compiler.)


Orthogonally to the different release channels, there are Editions of Rust. Currently, Rust 2015, 2018, and 2021 (supported by Rust 1.56, Oct 2021).

Each edition is a dialect, even with different syntax. The same compiler supports all the editions. The edition is specified at the level of a crate, and a single program may contain code from several editions.

This allows the language to evolve without breaking old code.

API stability management tools

The Rust language contains several features intended to allow a library API designer to warn or prevent users from relying on API properties which might change in the future.

For example, #[non_exhaustive] on data types which prevents an API consumer from writing code which would break when a new field or variant was added.

impl Trait, visibility specifiers, newtypes, and trait sealing, are also useful.

The standard library makes very extensive use of these facilities, and sets an example which the better crates largely follow.

When designing an API, you might want to take a look at the Rust Project's Rust API Guidelines. But do treat them as opinionated guidelines, not rules.

Libraries - semver

The Rust community has strong expectations about the API stability of Rust libraries (crates).

Cargo implements a modified semver scheme, and crates are generally expected to choose a cargo-semver-incompatible version for releases with breaking changes. The community will typically expect that any inadvertent breaking changes are reverted or fixed.

The semver scheme is like official semver, but with an additional compatibility rule for 0.x.y versions where (for example) 0.x.(y+1) satisfies a dependency on 0.x.y. (In official semver, no 0.x version is treated as compatible in any way with any other.)

That cargo expects there to be stability rules for 0.x versions has made it feasible for many crate authors to avoid publishing a 1.0, and inevitably many have failed to do so, for all the usual kinds of reasons. Many important and perfectly decent, stable, and reliable Rust libraries still have 0.x version numbers.

Multiple versions of the same library can end up in the same program, and are then treated as entirely disjoint by the language. If they need to interoperate, special measures must be taken. For example, when the log crate makes a new incompatible release, an update is published with the old version number which is actually a compatibility facade over the new version, so that programs ending up containing a single instance of the library and its crucial global state.